The effects of supplementation with alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene on the incidence and mortality of carcinoma of the pancreas in a randomized, controlled trial

Cancer. 1999 Jul 1;86(1):37-42.


Background: Dietary components may be both causal and protective in cases of pancreatic carcinoma, but the preventive potential of single constituents has not been evaluated. The authors report the effects of alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene supplementations on the rates of incidence of and mortality from pancreatic carcinoma in a randomized, controlled trial.

Methods: The 29,133 participants in the Alpha-Tocopherol Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention (ATBC) Study were male smokers who were ages 50-69 years at the time they were randomized into 1 of the following 4 intervention groups: dl-alpha-tocopherol (AT; 50 mg/day), beta-carotene (BC; 20 mg/day), both AT and BC, and placebo. The daily supplementation lasted for 5-8 years. Incident cancers were identified through the national Finnish Cancer Registry and death certificates of the Statistics Finland. Results were analyzed by supplementation with Cox regression models.

Results: Effects of both supplementations were statistically nonsignificant. The rate of incidence of pancreatic carcinoma was 25% lower for the men who received beta-carotene supplements (n = 38) compared with the rate for those who did not receive beta-carotene (n = 51) (95% CI, -51% to 14%). Supplementation with alpha-tocopherol (n = 51) increased the rate of incidence by 34% (95% CI, -12% to 105%) compared with the rate for those who did not receive alpha-tocopherol. Mortality from pancreatic carcinoma during the follow-up, adjusted for stage and anatomic location of the tumor, was 19% (95% CI, -47% to 26%) lower among those who received beta-carotene and 11% (95% CI, -28% to 72%) higher among those who received alpha-tocopherol as compared with those who did not receive supplementation.

Conclusions: Supplementation with beta-carotene or alpha-tocopherol does not have a statistically significant effect on the rate of incidence of pancreatic carcinoma or the rate of mortality caused by this disease.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antioxidants / administration & dosage
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma / mortality
  • Carcinoma / prevention & control*
  • Chemoprevention
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / mortality
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Registries*
  • Smoking
  • Vitamin E / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin E / therapeutic use*
  • beta Carotene / administration & dosage
  • beta Carotene / therapeutic use*


  • Antioxidants
  • beta Carotene
  • Vitamin E